Building on Success: Central High School Comes Off the “Failing Schools” List Featured

30 Apr 2019 Sarah Cassibry
Central High School Principal Clarence Sutton Jr. says the hard work of faculty and students helped get the school off Alabama’s list of “failing schools.” Central High School Principal Clarence Sutton Jr. says the hard work of faculty and students helped get the school off Alabama’s list of “failing schools.” Sarah Cassibry

In 2007, Central High School had a graduation rate of 47 percent. 

In the years following, the school steadily resided on the list of failing schools in Alabama. A mark of failure followed Central High, its faculty, and its students. 

That all changed last year, when more than 85 percent of the seniors in the Class of 2018 graduated. The graduation rate has nearly doubled in the last decade. 

For the first time since the Alabama Accountability Act was established in 2013, and the state began releasing its list of failing schools, Central High is no longer on that list.

Lesley Bruinton, spokesperson for the Tuscaloosa City Schools, said that the stigma created by the school’s failing scores “stung” for many of the students.

“The students didn’t like being defined by a label,” said Bruinton. “Being on the list [of failing schools] was a demoralizing experience for teachers and students.”

James Pope, deputy superintendent for the Tuscaloosa City Schools, said that despite the views that others had on the school, the students never viewed themselves as failing.

“There is not failure in that building,” said Pope. “The school coming off that list just proves that to the surrounding community.”

Clarence Sutton Jr., the principle of Central High, began his job in 2010 and has seen the school through many of its troubles. He said a lot of the school’s issues were solved by a group effort from the teachers to become more invested in each child individually and a determination to be better from the students. 

However, Sutton said that there is still much to do.

“We have not arrived,” said Sutton. “We’re better, but we have not arrived. We won round five, but round six is coming. We’ve got to be ready for what is coming next.”

One problem that Central High is currently facing is its college and career readiness score. According to the Education Report Card released by the Alabama Department of Education, only 45 percent of graduates leave Central High School prepared for college or a career.

However, nearly 54 percent of Central’s students are economically disadvantaged. Sutton said that this hinders the students’ abilities to be successful after they graduate.

“The barrier is always finances,” said Sutton.

In response to the issue, they started a business in their parking lot. Every game day during The University of Alabama’s football season, students and teachers work together to park cars at the school to raise money to fund their education.

According to Sutton, fundraisers like this provide a means for educating the students on what their future can look like, but the teachers also do so much more. They take field trips to various jobs and colleges, meet with students one-on-one to discuss possible plans for their future, and give opportunities for students to participate in activities like art and debate. 

Dan Meissner, former chairman of the Tuscaloosa City Schools, said that Sutton has been an important part of the success story at Central High School.

“His energy and dedication have inspired the teachers and the students to reach for even higher goals,” said Meissner. 

Despite claims like this, Sutton maintained that the students and the faculty at the school have made the real difference. He said that because of them, Central High School will keep improving.

“I feel like we’ll never be back on that list again.” 

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.